Intensive Mothering and Welfare Stigma

Updated May 27, 2021

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Intensive Mothering and Welfare Stigma essay

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The feminization of poverty is ever so prevalent in today’s society, and it has been a controversial social, economical, and political issue for decades; especially for welfare mothers. In Karen McCormack’s Stratified Reproduction and Poor Women’s Resistance, the ideology of intersectionality and stratified reproduction are thoroughly discussed and explained through interviews, experience and examples of intensive mothering, or the lack thereof, by women receiving welfare assistance.

The struggles that are faced are represented by social policies constructed by Governments based on misrepresentations of welfare mothers rather than the structural differences of society as a whole. Through the discourse of mothering, Stratified Reproduction and Poor Women’s Resistance identifies the prejudice and injustice that poverty-stricken, overburden, child-bearing, employed women face.

Power dynamics are identified, welfare stigma is discussed, gender roles, sexuality, ethnicity, and social classes are deconstructed; the expectation of mothers are criticized, and we ask ourselves the question, “How is it possible to adequately fulfill the roles of both a GOOD and WELFARE mother?”

To be a female and to be poor attracts a unique, and often scorned stigma, yet to be a mother as well draws an even more highly negative connotation from society. To be a “welfare mother” represents a derogatory term; it is to be sexually promiscuous, financially and economically incapable, and all around irresponsible. Intersectional oppression is exactly that; women are being oppressed in different ways and different degrees.

This term is clearly different from the often-called “working mother” or “stay-at-home-mom”. Working moms are continuously praised by society for doing exactly what they should be doing: raising their children. They are put high on a pedestal for juggling both managing their career, being “fit mothers” to their children, and meeting the needs of their spouse.

The stereotypes and misconceptions of welfare mothers portray the ideology that their parenting is lesser than, devalued, and looked down upon versus married, middle class women (McCormack 430). Society’s issue stems from the automatic assumption that government assistance is correlated with laziness and sorriness.

To provide evidence to my assumption above, I found a definition on the internet for welfare mother: “… Has 5 kids by 25 that she can’t take care or support. Also lacks the brain power to get money any other way. The welfare mother is a failure at life.” Somehow, society has misshaped the identity of a driven, dedicated, and tireless woman who is working to overcome impoverishment for her family into a nonproductive citizen and unfit mother.

Throughout the reading, McCormack often and frequently idolizes the use of race, gender, and class, and how that ties into the stereotypes of what a welfare mother is. In the reading, two African American women suggested that their welfare status was inevitably known and assumed just because of their race (McCormack 433).

This idea was retrieved from society because white women are more likely to pass as an upper-class citizen, therefore they are seen as not relying on governmental assistance to get by; which we know now is nothing to be ashamed of. Women on welfare are offered jobs that are both highly selective and that contain time-conflicts when it comes to meeting the needs of becoming a “good mother”.

Most welfare mothers are offered factory jobs, warehouse positions, janitorial maintenance, and telemarketing jobs. These jobs often times consist of shift-work with varying schedules, late nights, and early mornings. The conditions of the PRA require that women work outside of their home to receive the welfare assistance, making it that much more difficult. With the lack of adequate and safe childcare, it is much more difficult for welfare mothers to stay in these jobs for long periods of time

. The longing desire to become a part of their children’s lives also makes it exceptionally hard to fulfill the expectations of the “bread-winner” and “good mother” at the same time. The irony is that the work requirements of welfare mothers do not correlate with the need of society for mother’s to be stay-at-home parents. This highlights the discrepancy of stratified reproduction. Throughout the reading, we notice there are a select criteria to constitute a woman as a good mother: put children first, spend time with children, provide for children, keep children out of trouble, and to keep their children safe.

There are economic, financial, social, physical, and structural barriers that make it that much harder for welfare mothers to meet these expectations of society. It is a daily struggle for welfare mothers to fill both obligations of the balancing act between a hard worker and making scarifies versus a bad mother. Society must realize that welfare mothers are providing for their children and families in ways that work best for them, and they are neglecting their children’s needs; they are just met in a different way, as told by the mothers’ interviewed in Stratified Reproduction and Poor Women’s Resistance.

It is evident that welfare stigma is prominent in today’s society, and it can be shown through both intersectionality and stratified reproduction. The stereotypes that have been constructed by society regarding welfare mothers obviously poses a dilemma on what a good mother actually is. These women strategize their way through intrusive mothering and unite themselves to build each other up and recognize that they ARE good mothers; we as society should do the same and recognize their efforts.

Works Cited

  1. McCormack, Karen. Stratified Reproduction and Poor Women’s Resistance. 2005.
  2. “Welfare Mother.” Urban Dictionary, 13 Nov. 2008, www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=welfare mother.
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